VENICE, Italy — George Clooney’s “Suburbicon” has a timely subplot — based both on present times and a 1957 incident — about racism in white America. That subplot, however, resounded deeply during the Venice Film Festival press conference for the film, which stars Matt Damon and Julianne Moore.
“I was watching a lot of speeches on the campaign trail about building fences and scapegoating minorities and I started looking around at other times in our history when we’ve unfortunately fallen back into these things,” said Clooney, talking about how the pic germinated.
While casting around for story ideas, Clooney found a 1957 incident that happened in Levittown, Pa., in which an African-American family moved into a suburban development; however, many white residents in the area reacted with violence. Then, while looking to try to make a film out of the Levittown story, he remembered that the Coen brothers had written a script called “Suburbicon,” so those two elements were meshed together.
Of course at that stage the Charlottesville, Va., race riots had yet to happen, noted Damon, who in the film plays a bad guy who goes all the way, to an extent that he’s “never been able to do so far” in his career.
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“When we were filming we obviously could not have predicted the race riots,” said Damon. “We weren’t literally thinking that race riots would erupt in America right before this came out. But it does speak to the fact that these issues have not, and are not, going away. So there’s an honest reckoning in our country.”
As to the character Damon plays: “It’s kind the definition of white privilege when you are riding around your neighborhood on a bike covered in blood murdering people and the African-American family [who are his neighbors] is getting blamed for it,” he said.
Clooney pointed out that the film’s very dark tone reflects the anger he sees in the U.S. today.
“If you go to our country…depending on what side of the aisle you sit on, it’s probably the angriest I’ve ever seen it,” he noted. “There’s a dark cloud hanging over our country right now.” But he added: “I’m an optimist…I believe that we will get through all these things…but people are angry; a lot of us are angry.”
The “Suburbicon” director also underlined that the film “isn’t a movie about Donald Trump. … This is a movie about our coming to terms constantly with the idea that we have never fully addressed our issues with race.”
Moore, who plays a double role in the pic, made a clear-cut a statement on the issues being raised by Charlottesville.
“We are living in the United States where people are arguing about removing Confederate monuments: They must be removed,” she said. “You simply cannot have these figures from the Civil War in town squares and in universities for our children to see. As a parent and as a citizen I need to be active in the eradication of those, in the re-education of everyone. We have to take responsibility for it.”
Clooney joined her on a similar note: “This is something that is really festering right now in the United States: Talking about the Confederate flag, and the Jefferson Davis monument,” he noted. “Now, if you want to wear it [a confederate flag] on your T-shirt or if you want to hang it on your front lawn…have at it. But to hang it on a public building where possibly African American tax payers are paying for it — and it’s a symbol of hate — that cannot stand.”